In this post I will be discussing two well-known, curated online resource portals for education (MERLOT and MedEd PORTAL) as well as non-regulated sources like SlideShare and google images. I will argue the need for and usefulness of these portals and share my experience of using them. Finally, I will discuss how to avoid copyright infringement while using these websites.
Nowadays most universities are using one form of a learning management system or virtual learning environment (VLE) to deliver various teaching materials including videos, images and power point presentations to their learners. Similarly almost all lectures are power point-based (which arguably is not a very efficient educational approach) and often rely on images for effectiveness and to sustain learner engagement. There is a clear, ever-increasing need for high-quality digital learning materials. This need is not limited to the images to be included in presentations or visual media uploaded to VLEs. If you are trying to develop an educational activity adopting active learning approaches, instead of starting from scratch, you may try to find PBL/TBL sessions or laboratory practicals that have already been tested and published proving their effectiveness.
Even though, you could just google "diabetes mellitus biochemistry PBL session" to find necessary materials, refining what is useful among all retrieved results can be time consuming. With google, you cannot be exactly sure what you are going to get unless you click the result and see it for yourself. You may increase the chance of getting relevant results by using operators, or by searching for a specific file type such as pdf or docx, but still might not have what you aimed for in the end. That is why I personally find resource portals more useful.
I used a simple approach to better understand usefulness of curated as well as non-curated sources: I searched for "diabetes mellitus" in different platforms and drilled into the retrieved results. I started with MERLOT, moved on to MedEd PORTAL and finally to slideshare and google.
TL;DR: MERLOT contains many irrelevant/outdated/broken links and spam advertisements but it is good for searching Apps.
The first portal I am going to write about is MERLOT, a human-curated online learning and support materials depository designed by California State University in 1997. Today, having thousands of members, MERLOT is a large portal, harboring almost one hundred thousand discipline-specific learning materials in nineteen different material type categories including animations, assessments, assignments, cases, courses and syllabus. All materials are reviewed for suitability for retention in the collection and many undergo the more extensive peer review according to MERLOT website. It is important to note that MERLOT itself does not store learning materials and only the metadata (descriptive items) and URL of the material are stored within MERLOT.
When I searched "Diabetes Mellitus", MERLOT retrieved 23 results including a video, case studies, presentations, reference materials, scientific papers and even apps. You can filter these results based on material type, audience, having cost and/or creative commons license. When you are scanning though your results, you can immediately get some useful information such as a short description of the material, user ratings and creation/modification dates thanks to its nicely designed interface. You can access details of the material by clicking and learn more about the material including its author/creator, involved costs and creative commons license status. In both results and details page there is a " go to material" button which opens related web page in a separate tap.
Unfortunately, when I manually controlled each of the results, I realized that 30 % of the materials were not accessible (7/23). I reported these broken links but more worryingly I realized that thirteen of the results were loosely related or completely unrelated articles about "consciousness energy healing" from the same authors. I think the authors might have been using this platform to advertise their work. Moreover, materials tagged as "presentations" (three materials in total) turned out to be either video or sound files which technically may make them presentations but I expected power point presentations. I would probably tag them as "sound recording" and "video recording". Materials provided by MERLOT seemed insufficient in number and mostly irrelevant at least based on my search parameters. I also tested other key words such as "Krebs Cycle" and "Apoptosis" to avoid medicine-related bias, and again ended up with outdated or broken links and irrelevant articles. Two things I could praise MERLOT for are the inclusion of apps to the results and that it provides information regarding copyright status of the materials.
TL;DR: MedED PORTAL is the place to visit to access high quality and complex educational content along with the proof of its usefulness but it is limited to medical subjects.
Our second stop is MedED PORTAL, a MEDLINE-indexed, peer-reviewed, open-access journal of teaching and learning resources in the health professions published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). MedED PORTAL contains 16 volumes (from 2015 to 2020) and more than 2500 scientific articles. Unlike articles listed by MERLOT, all of these are education-related articles and published in MedED PORTAL itself after a review process.
Diabetes Mellitus search generated 25 results but since all of those are categorized as "original research" the only part we can get information regarding their content, is either their title or abstract. Even though the interface is not as detailed or as fancy as MERLOT's, you immediately realize that it contains content relevant to your search. Result include PBL/TBS sessions, educational cases, training toolkits, learning modules and other materials. Since MedMed PORTAL is an open-access journal, you can download any publication in the list with all its related files. If the download contains more than one file (learner hand-outs, case files, instruction documents, lecture presentations etc.) it is listed in the appendices section and downloaded as a .zip file. In the publication page you may find useful information such as educational objectives related to the material as well as the details of the study conducted based on the educational material. Therefore, you have a chance to gain access to the material along with the evidence supporting its usefulness. However, if you are trying to find a simpler material such as an image or a video, or you are searching for content that is not related to medicine, MedEd PORTAL cannot help you. Which takes us to our next destinations: SlideShare and Google images.
TL;DR: SlideShare is the YouTube of Power Point presentations. It mostly contains relevant content with minimal spam. Usefulness of these slideshows however, is open to debate.
SlideShare is a hosting service of LinkedIn for presentations, infographics, documents, and videos. You may think of SlideShare as the YouTube for slideshows and even though it is minuscule compared to YouTube, it is still a vast environment containing millions of documents growing by hundreds of thousands daily. According to Alexa, it is the 151st website in global internet engagement having more than 80 million visitors a day.
Results page displays the retrieved documents as representative pictures along with their titles. You can also see the number of slides each document has and the number of likes it has received. The slide page shows the category of the slide (Health & Medicine), number of views/likes it received and the username of the uploader who you can follow or browse uploads of. Users can "like" or comment on the slides mimicking the peer-review system of YouTube and other social media platforms. Users may also "flag" the content that is not appropriate (such as copyrighted or illegal material).
Diabetes Mellitus search retrieved more than 350,000 results including more than 200,000 presentations, 36 videos, 359 infographics and many other documents. Almost all the files were tagged as English even though some of them were not. Since there were hundreds of thousands of results, I have just focused on first couple of pages to dive deeper. All of the 24 results I have manually controlled were power-point presentations that are relevant to the subject. Except for the advertisement of a natural product which sadly was the first result, all seemed real educational presentations of actual people. This suggests a higher level of moderation compared to Merlot. Then I started looking into the slides themselves, which instantly reminded me how useless I always thought examining presentations of other people was. Now I am going to take a break and write about the usefulness of looking at slides prepared by other people as general. If you do not wish to read it please skip the next paragraph.
Lecture presentations provide a very poor insight to the actual educational activity as they are very style- and context-dependent, and without this context it is almost impossible to deduce the actual meaning of the slides. This is especially true if the learning goals are not present and the lecturer relies heavily on images instead of explanatory texts (which is normally desirable). Obviously, you can easily deduce meaning of a text summarizing a key information regarding the subject, but when you encounter complex images, schematics and questions, it becomes more difficult to perceive their intended meanings. Sometimes lecturers include incorrect information or examples of misconceptions just to prove a point (if you do that, please also state that in your presentation), or they may ask questions with or without inclusion (and even expectation) of an answer. That is why I personally never find looking at presentations of other people useful.
Moving on. If you think examining lecture presentations is useful in anyway, SlideShare is a very valuable source. One concern regarding SlideShare is the copyright. When I examined the results retrieved by diabetes search closely, I have determined that two thirds of the presentations (16/24) were quite possibly uploaded by the person who prepared it (evident from the username well as other slides uploaded by the same personae). The rest was unclear but there was no definitive case of a copyright infringement. On the other hand, this does not suggest that there was no copyright violation in the content of the presentations themselves. According to the SlideShare community guidelines they do not actively screen content and rely on users' self-moderation instead. However, they also state that they would step in if need rises. Personally, I am convinced that the copyright infringement is not a huge problem in SlideShare. Which takes us to our last stop in which the copyright infringement may be a huge problem depending on how you use the website.
Google and Google Images
TL;DR: Google images is THE source for image search and knowing how to use it may help you avoid copyright infringement.
There are two possible educational material types you can access via google searches: images and everything else. Image search deserves a separate space because of the dedicated search service of google: google images. Even though it was inspired by a pop culture incident involving a huge demand to see Jennifer Lopez's green Versace dress, nowadays it became the number one source to find images to be used in professional presentations, pamphlets and other electronic/printed materials. It is accounted for 22.6% of all internet searches and is only surpassed by the almighty google herself.
Google images much like google, scans relatively everything on the net via search algorithms. Therefore, it retrieves millions of results and it is difficult (but imperative) to refine it to obtain more relevant and specific images. Most common ways to do so are to combine multiple keywords and to use operators. That being said, the interface of google images provides some useful tools to refining as well. You can filter size to obtain high quality images, filter color to find images without a background (transparent) and filter type to refine animated images (GIF) as well as clip arts. If you need to find an image representing the insulin pathways and how they are altered in DM, you can search for: diabetes mellitus insulin pathway, and filter large transparent images. Now comes the tricky part: since google retrieves whatever it can find there is almost no way to make sure if the creator of the original content distributes it to be used freely. However, there are some measures you can take to prevent copyright infringement.
First, there is a filter dedicated to refine results based on their usage rights, by which you can retrieve only results that are labelled for example for re-use or non-commercial re-use. Normally since not many of the creators bother to label their content, this feature could be impractical but a website is labeling its content making it worthwhile. That website is Wikipedia commons, a repository containing over 55 million free media files including images, video and sound files, and is managed by millions of volunteers. I was actually planning to include Wikipedia commons (and Wikipedia along with it) as a separate entry as an online educational material resource portal but I realized I almost always use google images to access it. In this case when I searched for diabetes mellitus insulin pathway and filtered large transparent images that are labelled for non-commercial re-use, all of the fifty results were from Wikipedia and Wikipedia commons.
Second, even if you are not using the usage rights filter (probably because it retrieves zero results), you can manually control it by visiting the website the image is embedded in and investigating if the image is eligible to re-use. Google removed "view image" button in 2018 to kindly force the users to visit the actual pages. Even if you pull off a right click and try to "open the image in a new tab", it will take you a low-res thumbnail of the image if the original owners of the website requested so. Therefore, if you can access to the full high-res version of the image there is a good chance that the owners of the website containing the original allows you to do so.
If you are searching for educational materials other than images in google, you can filter specific file types depending on your target (pptx for presentation, pdf for documents), use minus sign (-) to omit results containing a keyword and you can filter out outdated materials by setting a time filter. However, even after these filters there will be a lot of irrelevant results and you are going to have to control them manually.
I recommend using google images in an informed way to find images you need without violating copyright laws and regulations. I would recommend SlideShare for presentations and MedED PORTAL for tested educational activity documents.
Specials thanks to Yasemin SEVAL ÇELİK for reviewing this post.